The commander of the US forces in Africa on Wednesday said Somalia’s president is trying to force Al-Shabaab to negotiate a political settlement.
“Somalis are going to need to decide for themselves what the arrangement will be at the end of the day,” General Thomas Waldhauser, head of the US Africa Command (Africom), told members of Congress.
He said Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, popularly known as Farmajo, is aiming to “beat back Al-Shabaab to the point where defections, especially of leadership, become the order of the day and some type of negotiated settlement with the federal government probably takes place”.
Most insurgencies end in such a manner, Gen Walhauser noted in an exchange with the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
But an Africom “posture statement” submitted to the US Congress on Tuesday notes in regard to Somalia that “while some high-profile defections have occurred, only a small number of fighters have actually defected”.
Gen Waldhauser counseled patience as intensified US firepower is combined with gradually heightened effectiveness on the part of Somalia’s federal government.
President Farmajo has made progress in governance during his year in office, Gen Waldhauser observed, but added:
“It’s going to be slow, no doubt about it. You measure progress in Somalia by eighths of an inch, not by yardsticks.”
As a result of the Trump administration’s broadening of authority for air strikes in Somalia, “we have turned up the heat in the past few months”, Gen Waldhauser said.
“That is not to say Al-Shabaab is on the ropes,” he added.
The Africom chief further cautioned that the US is not formally at war in Somalia. The mission there is specifically designed to avoid that designation, he said.
The US has provided Kenyan forces inside Somalia with drones that are being used to “identify ambushes ahead of their patrols”, the Africom posture statement indicates.
“Kenya is now investing their own money in additional platforms,” the statement notes.
Kenya is also hosting a significant number of US troops, Gen Waldhauser told the US congressional committee.
He did not specify the size of that US deployment, but he said East Africa, including the large Africom base in Djibouti, accounts for most of the roughly 7500 US troops deployed on the continent.